Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Goaltending, turnovers hurt in 7-5 loss to Blackhawks

Mistakes plague Blues despite eight-point night
from Backes, Sobotka, Berglund; loss is third in a row

CHICAGO -- What started as a small snowball early turned into an avalanche by the middle of the second period.

And even though the Blues made a valiant comeback in the third period to give themselves a chance to win a game, there were some mistakes early in the game to overcome a large deficit, both off turnovers and poor goaltending.

Untimely turnovers led to odd-man rushes, a lack of stops by Ty Conklin and some shoddy coverage on the penalty kill led to the Chicago Blackhawks' 7-5 win over the Blues Tuesday night at United Center, sending the Blues into their home matchup with the Washington Capitals tonight on a three-game losing skid.

The Hawks (14-11-2) won their third straight and second this season over the Blues -- both in this building. Aside from the turnovers and less-than-stellar goaltending, Chicago's power play, which was 3-for-5, played a big role. The Blues were 0-for-3, including a key power play opportunity down 5-4 in the third.

The Blues (12-8-3) were their own worst enemies, particularly in the neutral and defensive zone. Conklin did not have a strong night, allowing seven goals on only 24 shots, as the Blues outshot the Hawks 26-24.

The loss was stinging despite the strong play of David Backes and Vladimir Sobotka, who were paired on Patrik Berglund's line and the two combined for seven points, with Backes leading the way with a goal and three assists. The trio finished with eight points.

As much as the Blues were able to accomplish by turning a 5-1 deficit into a 5-4 margin early in the third period, it all came down to some timely saves the Blues could have used from Conklin, who felt like he let his team down in this one.

"We gave up a couple of chances, but if you look at the game, we didn't give up much," said Conklin, whose goals-against average jumped from 2.57 to 3.38 and save percentage bottomed out to .866 from .911. "It was a poor, poor game on my part. I don't feel like I give up too many of them, but that was a terrible game in my opinion."

It started rough from the beginning, as the Blues allowed two bad goals off turnovers that resulted in goals for Tomas Kopecky and Patrick Sharp

Chicago grabbed a 2-1 lead in the period on only six shots in the period.

Patrick Sharp took over Marian Hossa's role as Blues killer with a goal and an assist in the period, a period the Blues seemed to get the better of the play. Hossa missed the game and will be out 2-3 weeks after sustaining a lower-body injury Monday at practice.

Conklin, who got beat on Kopecky's wrister from the right circle 4:38 into the opening period for a 1-0 lead despite a turnover from defenseman Nikita Nikitin.

The Blues got the tying goal from Berglund tied the game 1-1 with 3:01 remaining in the period on a nice tie-tac-toe play from Backes and Sobotka, who found Berglund at the far side, and Berglund roofs the puck into the goal over Corey Crawford.

But another turnover led to a 2-on-1, and Sharp dragged the puck to his backhand and beat Conklin, who took a poor angle, then tried to poke-check the puck and missed out with 56.1 seconds to play in the period.

"There were a couple of tough bounces, but at the end of the day, we scored enough goals to win that game," Conklin said. "I wasn't good enough. That's really the bottom line. It's not hard to diagnose that one."

Jay McClement's line with B.J. Crombeen and Brad Winchester were also victimized for the early goals. They were on the ice for both. They finished minus-8 for the game.

"The way we started, things compounded there pretty quickly," McClement said. "I think when that happens, we've got to learn how to respond better. Teams are going to score on us, but tonight, they scored and came right back down and got another chance and scored some quick ones there. A couple power play goals obviously hurt us, too."

Added Blues coach Davis Payne, "I thought that other than some turnovers, we had pretty good intention for the most part of that hockey game. ... For the most part, I thought our players directed fairly well."

When asked if his goalie had a rough night, Payne said succinctly, "Yeah I feel that."

It went from bad to worse in the second period, as Chicago got a lucky-bounce power play goal from Troy Brouwer that caromed off the glass and into an empty slot as Conklin went to go play the puck that he thought was going to rim around the net. Jonathan Toews stuffed in another power play goal between Conklin's skates from the side of the net 9 minutes 16 seconds into the period and Patrick Kane knocked one in unchallenged from the slot at 11:07 to make it 5-1.

Crombeen certainly lit a fire under his team by taking on Nick Boynton and getting the decision. It was the Blues' second fight of the game, after Cam Janssen took on Chicago's hulking 6-foot-8, 258-pound forward John Scott in the first.

"At that point, you really have nothing to lose," Backes said of being down 5-1. "You're down by four in the new NHL where anything's possible. We've had plenty of teams that have come back on us, and we showed a little bit of that.

"I don't think we were deflated in this room. You saw a lot of character in this room fighting back, but we can't create offense at the expense of giving up odd-man rushes and plays defensively. They obviously have plenty of guys in that room that can make plays and put the puck in the back of the net, and they showed it tonight. We showed a little resilience, but too little, too late."

The Blues began the comeback as Eric Brewer made it 5-2 with 2:30 to play in the second as the Blues applied good pressure on a delayed penalty.

Alex Pietrangelo and Brad Boyes then got goals 2:45 apart early in the third to make it 5-4, and Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville called timeout to let his team have it at that point.

"We felt that we were getting chances," Payne said. "We felt that even with the deficit, we were going to allow the system to continue to work. We got a little more aggressive on the walls, but beyond that, it was plays going to the net. We got some traffic and it gave us some chances."

With Dave Bolland in the box for delay of game, the Blues had their chance to tie the game on the power play, and a couple chances nearly tied it to no avail. They got two shots.

"I thought we had some good looks," Payne said. "I thought we handled their pressure, got some clean looks at the net, had a tip on one, had a loose puck. It would have been nice to see us come all the way back, but another turnover to make it 6-4 hurt us again."

Conklin, who did make a key stop on Bolland seconds after Boyes' goal, had a chance to keep it at 5-4. But he left the near side open for an instance and Viktor Stalberg's shot got through the Blues' goalie, go off the post to the other side of the goal where Kane backhanded in the deflating goal into an empty net at 13:42 to make it 6-4.

"That (sixth goal) was awful, that was a bad goal," Conklin admitted. "I can look at a couple of them. The first goal was a bad goal. There were a couple of good goals, they scored some good goals, but I didn't make them work for a couple of them.\

"We were very resilient, but how resilient can you be? It's a little bit deflating when you're watching your goalie letting in all those goals."

Toews added his second one, Chicago's third power play goal, with 4:27 to play to make it 7-4, and Backes was able to tip in a Pietrangelo shot with 2:39 for his fourth point of the game.

"I'll take zero points tonight if we can get the win, but as a line, I thought we did a pretty good job and we need to do that again tomorrow night and try and lead the charge for us," Backes said. "They get a couple lucky ones, but ... they went in. That's the bottom line. We needed to fight back. We showed a little bit of that, but we needed a little bit more tonight."

"Our goal is to make sure we stay faithful to the process," Payne said. "I felt we did that. Obviously the seven on the board and the loss stings, but again, we did some good things tonight."

(11-30-10) Blues-Blackhawks Gameday Lineup

CHICAGO -- The Blues, trying to snap a two-game losing streak, will go into tonight's battle with Chicago looking at a slightly different Hawks lineup.

Slightly different but with a major subtraction.

Marian Hossa, who has torched the Blues for 12 goals and 19 points in 24 career games against the Blues which includes a plus-12, will miss the next 2-3 weeks for Chicago after sustaining what the Hawks are calling a lower-body injury following a collision with teammate Nick Boynton Monday in practice.

Hossa scored two third-period goals here on Oct. 16 during Chicago's 3-2 overtime victory, a game in which the Blues led 2-0.

The Blues are no strangers to injury and do not change anything tactically as far as a game plan is concerned.

"It's still a dangerous hockey club," Blues coach Davis Payne said. ... "He's a very dynamic player, a big body, big skill. He's a world-class player, but they've still got a lot of firepower."

Added defenseman Eric Brewer, "He's clearly a big part of their team. Every team's got injuries. You just kind of deal with it. They'll be fine. They've got lots of offense."

Chicago still boasts a lineup that features Patrick Sharp (15 goals, 27 points), Jonathan Toews (10 assists, 19 points) and Patrick Kane (15 assists, 24 points), to name a few.

"(Hossa's) a world-class player, one of the best in the league," forward B.J. Crombeen said. "Any time he's not playing is a big plus for us. But that's not something we worry about or try to change our game plan around one guy. We've just got to focus on playing our hockey for a full 60 and getting two points."

- - -

The Blues will alter their defensive pairings, with Nikita Nikitin returning to the lineup after sitting out Saturday's game and Tyson Strachan taking a seat in the press box tonight.

Nikitin will be paired with Carlo Colaiacovo, two lefties. Colaiacovo will play on the right side, the off-pairing.

"There's some trusting, there's some gaps," Payne said. "In our system, it's a little bit different to trust where you can be and what you're going to face. We'll get him back out there tonight and get him more familiar with it."

As far as getting Nikitin back in the lineup?

"Niki's a little cleaner play coming up the ice," Payne said. "We feel that he's got a real strong stick. He plays his angles well. Strach does as well. When Strach turns up ice, he can be pretty effective as far as joining (the rush), and at the offensive blue line, Strach does a good job of getting pucks through. Niki too. Very similar player. We're looking at a situation where we're trying to get that group in there that's going to get us a win. Not a lot of differences between the two."

- - -

Matt D'Agostini, who has been struggling to put up points with no goals and two assists in the previous eight games and one goal in 12, will center the fourth line tonight.

There was some thought D'Agostini could be a healthy scratch but Payne has him in there, feeling the right-handed shot can get back to where he scored six goals in the first 14 games.

"He's again in a situation where if he's playing his game, he can contribute to us," Payne said of D'Agostini. "The thought there is we recognize internally there's more there. The responsibility on him now is to get in there and give us the type of hockey we've seen out of him the first part of the year."

The Blues will also go with Andy McDonald at center on the top line and David Backes on right wing on the second line. Alex Steen will move up to the top line as well.

Payne on McDonald, "Right now, I think he's most affective on the ice. Not a lot of difference between the position he's playing. He's getting some good low coverage, he's getting some good wide-speed opportunities. He's playing to the inside and around the net. We'll see what matchups we're going to be facing, but if he can get the job done and draw even in our own zone, we feel that a little more puck possession on his stick coming into the neutral zone is a good thing for us right now. Moving David back into the middle is an option as well."

Payne on Steen moving up to the top line, "We see him as a guy that's got a great all-around game. I think we see this year be a little bit different than last year in that the power play production isn't happening quite as much. He's obviously a guy that teams have targeted as an option to make sure they take away. From the standpoint of him playing with skill guys, he's still got to play in the right areas. ... We've got to make sure he's playing the right game. If we're getting the chance to use that type of skill against different defensemen, then it should be effective for us as well. A large number of his points last year came in that exact same situation playing with Jay Mac (Jay McClement) and Beener."

Vladimir Sobotka will also move into a scoring role, playing left wing on the second line.

"You look at his numbers in the American League, he's got great numbers there," Payne said of Sobotka. "He wasn't in a role last year that wasn't called upon that. We feel his poise with the puck, his decision-making, his willingness to go into tough areas ... he's got the ability to separate quickly. Playing with those big bodies in Bergy and Backes, it could be something that gives them the opportunities to get to the right areas, get available based on Sobie's ability to handle the puck and get to certain areas quickly."

The Blues were a little caught off-guard to see line changes but not totally shocked.

"It's about winning hockey games. We're struggling to score," McDonald said. "The idea is to shuffle things up and generate some more offense.

"It's about generating more changes and how you go about doing that, whether it's transition through the neutral zone or attacking the net in the offensive zone. We seem to control the puck well on the outside, but it's getting that puck to the inside and generating those quality scoring chances in the slot that we need to get better at."

Added Boyes, "We're looking for offense. We haven't scored a lot in our last couple of games, so we're mixing it up a bit. We'll see how it goes. I think that's still an option to go back to ...something we can do at any time. But right now, we need goals from anybody."

- - -

The Blues, who rolled out their new-look lines in practice Monday, will go with the following:

Alex Steen-Andy McDonald-Brad Boyes

Vladimir Sobotka-Patrik Berglund-David Backes

Brad Winchester-Jay McClement-B.J. Crombeen

Chris Porter-Matt D'Agostini-Cam Janssen

T.J. Hensick
will be a healthy scratch for the fourth straight game.

The d-pairings, with Strachan as a healthy scratch include:

Eric Brewer-Erik Johnson

Barret Jackman-Alex Pietrangelo

Nikita Nikitin-Carlo Colaiacovo

Ty Conklin, who is 7-4-0 with a 2.85 goals-against average and .906 save percentage for his career against the Blackhawks, will get the nod tonight in goal for the Blues.

Although Payne never confirmed it, it's expected that Jaroslav Halak will start tomorrow's home game against the Washington Capitals, a team Halak helped upset in the first round of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals a season ago with the Montreal Canadiens when the Canadiens were the eighth seed and the Caps the top overall seed.

- - -

The Hawks (13-11-2) were 4-2-0 on their recent circus trip and have recalled forward Jeremy Morin from Rockford of the AHL to take the place of Hossa.

"Things happen like that," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "It’s all part of it, you deal with it, it’s an opportunity for (Morin) to come up. Hopefully he can take advantage of the chance and the challenge and we’ll go from there."

Chicago will roll out the following lines minus Blues-killer Hossa:

Viktor Stalberg-Jonathan Toews-Patrik Kane

Troy Brouwer-Patrick Sharp-Jeremy Morin

Bryan Bickell-Dave Bolland-Tomas Kopecky

John Scott-Jake Dowell-Jack Skille

Their d-pairings, including Hawk fans villain Boynton include:

Duncan Keith-Brent Seabrook

Brian Campbell-Niklas Hjalmarsson

Nick Boynton-Jassen Cullimore

Corey Crawford
, who is 0-0-1 in his career with a 4.62 goals-against average and .853 save percentage against the Blues, will make his third straight start for the Blackhawks tonight.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Payne breaks up forward lines, looks for balance

Players caught a bit off guard, not totally
surprised by moves; lines to likely stick against Chicago

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- It's no secret that the Blues' top line of David Backes, Andy McDonald and Brad Boyes have carried the bulk of the offense of late. The trio have been on fire.

They combined for 28 points during an eight-game stretch prior to Saturday's 2-1 loss to the Dallas Stars.

But the Blues (12-7-3) are in search of more consistent scoring from all lines after averaging only 2.64 goals per game, which is 24th in the league.

It could be worse for the Blues, who play in Chicago tonight at 7 (Versus, KMOX 1120-AM). They could be at the bottom of the league like the New Jersey Devils, who are scoring a paltry 1.79 goals a game. But when a team is tied for sixth in the league in goals against (2.50), some separation between goals scored and goals allowed will bring more victories.

That's why when the Blues took the ice Monday at St. Louis Mills, there was a different look to the lineup working through fast-paced drills.

McDonald and Boyes will remain in tact -- with McDonald sliding to his natural center position -- but Alex Steen was flanked on left wing and Boyes on right wing. Center Patrik Berglund saw a pair of different wingers in Vladimir Sobotka on left and Backes at his natural right wing.

One could argue breaking up the McDonald-Backes Boyes line, but if all the production is top-heavy, it makes things much easier for the opposition to play a shut-down role against the Blues.

Although coach Davis Payne would not cement those lines for tonight's game against the Blackhawks, he was toying with the idea Monday.

"Just taking a look at some different combinations from the weekend and obviously the matchups going into the next couple nights with needing to make sure that (Chicago's Duncan) Keith and (Brent) Seabrook are guys that can keep numbers down and keep offensive chances down," Payne said. "If we need some sort of even distribution from our skill guys, it's something we wanted to have a look at today."

A guy the Blues have looked at in both an offensive and defensive role, Steen is one that could most benefit from playing with the skilled McDonald down the middle and firepower of Boyes on the opposite side.

Steen, who is pointless in six straight games and nine of his last 10, has no issues with the movement. He's played on the second line recently and earlier in the season, was on the checking line with Jay McClement and B.J. Crombeen.

"We've been switching -- aside from the top line -- all the lines pretty much for the last few games here," Steen said. "It's nothing new. I think guys are used to playing with each other no matter who it is. We've all pretty much played with everybody. It should be good. It should be an interesting one in Chicago tomorrow."

Does it change Steen's game at all?

"I don't know if it changes much. It's a little bit different," he said. "I think it's more of an offensive mentality. But at the same time, I need to maintain the defensive part of my game.

"I'm not going to change too much. It's going to be fun. We have good chemistry. We talk a lot, especially in the room when we can discuss certain situations with each other. I think we see the game in the same way."

McDonald, who has been red-hot with 12 points (six goals, six assists) in nine games, can definitely benefit from a change despite playing well on the wing.

"In the middle, you have more touches with the puck, probably more of a distributor in that area," McDonald said Monday. "That's something obviously I'm experienced with and I've played a lot of years in the middle. ... It's about winning and shuffling things up to create some offense.

"I've played in the middle with Brad before. I'm excited to get back to that kind of situation. Steener is fast, he's got a great shot, he's good in a lot of areas. It'll be exciting to play with that line tomorrow."

Boyes, who has four goals and four assists in eight games, can now see an up-tempo style. He likes the idea of balancing the scoring out against Chicago.

"I think it speeds it up (with McDonald)," Boyes said. "He's a guy that's real quick. Backes was good, but Andy's different. He's smaller and quicker, will bolt through areas. So I think that part of it, we'll get it going. He's a left-hand shot, too, which tends to be easier to play with.

"... To split it up and hopefully get more depth, that's going to be good. You know those guys (Keith and Seabrook) are going to be playing a lot, but they can't play all the time. So if we can take advantage of that, with Backes out there, that's what we want to do."

As for Backes, it's an opportunity to get a fresh look himself and he doesn't mind seeing the hot trio break up -- at least temporarily.

"Obviously with our lack of production (as a team), I figured there was going to be a little shifting around, a little more balance throughout our lineup," Backes said. "Not that I'm the solution or I'm going to produce that personally but just to have a different gel to try and create more is something I figured (would happen). Whether our line was going to be broken up or some other changes, I wasn't certain. But to see myself on the wing hopefully produces more energy in the offensive zone and production for myself."

Backes, who played on right wing on Nov. 11 against Nashville with McDonald at center and Steen on left wing, has an opportunity to play with another big body in Berglund and the versatile Sobotka.

"Maybe we can take off the checking line that would be against those guys and give them more room or they can do the same for us. We'll see what happens," Backes said. "Obviously Brad and Andy will continue to play well and Steener has been playing phenomenally with the puck ... maybe they'll have even better chemistry than we had. If it's better for the team, I'm happy to surrender that spot to someone else."

And as for Sobotka, here's someone still trying to find his niche in the 18 games he's played since the Blues acquired him from Boston over the summer. He missed four games after off-season shoulder surgery.

"I'm excited to play with Bergy and Backes," Sobotka said. "Of course, if it's not working, we have to do something, change a couple of things. But I feel the last two games against Dallas, we were skating good and had some chances. We just didn't score the goal that we needed."


Payne irritated at practice; Blues rivalry with Blackhawks renewed

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- For those that know Davis Payne, he's pretty much even-keeled.

The Blues' coach doesn't show much emotion whether happy or upset.

Monday was the exception to the rule when it comes to being a bit hot under the collar. Or steam rising from under the coach's hat, which was the case at practice.

Payne was a bit edgy as the Blues opened practice. And he let the players know about it.

Let's just say his team had him feeling perturbed.

Payne didn't like what he was seeing and could be heard yelling across the rink when he pulled his team over near the bench at St. Louis Mills for a little talk by the dry board.

"I wouldn't know if I was feeling a burr or a lack of execution, that's all," Payne said. "Those things happen."

So was the message delivered loud and clear?

"I would assume that it was heard," Payne said. "I think we have to be better in certain areas. That has to be our intent. We had to get to that intent a little bit quicker today. If that's how it has to get there, that's how it has to get there."

The players were not at all confused at their coach's mood change.

"We obviously weren't sharp today," forward Andy McDonald said. "That happens when things don't go well and obviously losing the other night. We came out (Monday morning) and weren't executing and that's the response. It was deserved."

Added winger Brad Boyes, "I think there was some validity to it. We kind of messed up the first drill a little bit. But after that, it was pretty good. It was quick. The passes for the most part were on the tape and guys were working. Execution was pretty good. He made his point pretty clear."

Do the players need to hear it from time to time?

"Yeah, you need to," Boyes said. "He's not shy to do it. He's coached for a while, he knows what to do, when to do it."

"Any time the coach feels he needs to say something to get us going, we definitely need a kick in the pants," defenseman Erik Johnson said. "Practice was better as we moved on. That's the coach's job to do that.

"It's kind of both ends of the spectrum with him. It's fine. If we need that, then we'll get it."

The Blues, who play at Chicago tonight before hosting Washington on Wednesday, are coming off back-to-back losses against the Dallas Stars, in which they lost third-period leads in both games.

"Everybody was disappointed with the way we finished," winger Alex Steen said. "I think we played a couple pretty decent hockey games, but there were a couple mistakes that cost us the games. ... Yesterday was tough having the day off. I wanted to play again."

* Rivalry renewed -- The Blues and Blackhawks will meet for the third time this season, with each winning on home ice.

The Blackhawks won 3-2 in overtime in Chicago on Oct. 18, a game in which the Blues led 2-0 with under eight minutes remaining. The two teams met again in St. Louis four nights later, and the Blues won that game 4-2.

The Blues will try to prevent their third losing streak of the season of three games or more.

"We did a lot of good things in the two games (against Dallas)," Steen said. "Those are tough ones to swallow. Dallas is a team that we should be beating on both nights, but we didn't. You move on. The sun comes up, you've got to look at the next opponent, which is Chicago and that's a tough one. A fast-paced team just like us. It's going to be a great game, good atmosphere. I'm looking forward to getting to Chicago."

Added Johnson, "I love playing Chicago. It's probably my favorite (road) building to play in. They have a good, young team too. We obviously want to replicate what they did last year. I love playing up there. It's always a blast."

It's small margins, but that's the way hockey is. You've got to be focused and complete the 60 minutes. If you don't do that, it can cost you. Some nights you can play great for 59 minutes and end up losing the game, and sometimes you can play 30 minutes and end up winning. You don't want to make a habit of those games. You want to play that consistent 60 minutes throughout the game and overtime if it calls for that.

* D'Agostini quiet -- After scoring six goals in 14 games, forward Matt D'Agostini has been relatively quiet for the Blues.

He's tallied two assists (both against New Jersey Nov. 20) in the last eight games and has been stuck on those six goals since scoring against Nashville Nov. 11.

D’Agostini, acquired by the Blues from Montreal for Aaron Palushaj last season, was tinkering between the third and fourth lines at practice on Monday.

Payne said it's just a matter of getting the young forward back to doing what he does best.

"Just a little more consistency," Payne said. "It's nothing that we haven't sat down and discussed between him and the coaches. There's areas in his game on both sides of the puck that have to get back to where they were early. It's making sure that he's aware of that, making sure that the work is put into the right areas and is effective. We feel that he'll be able to jump back in here and contribute quickly."

* Getting more goals -- In the last four games, the Blues have seven regulation goals, including only four in the previous three games. They are 2-2 in that stretch, so Monday's practice was spent working on what Payne calls "attacking the right areas."

"Teams nowadays defend so well that we have to make sure we can't be five feet off, we can't be 10 feet off," Payne said. "We've got offer the right support at the right time in the right places.

"I thought we played a pretty decent game Saturday night against Dallas. I think defensively, we did our jobs. Offensively, there were some moments where we attacked the right areas and we executed and there were some times where we kept ourselves to the outside. We've got to make sure we're giving ourselves interior options to go with the puck.

"Scoring's a funny thing. It's a combination of every little bit being off, whether it's guys out of the lineup, whether it's schedule-based, whether it's execution-based, positional ... it can be a whole slew of things. When it's just a little bit of each one, it can be tough. And when you have a guy like Kari Lehtonen coming in and playing like he did the past two nights, good pitching overrides good hitting every single time. That's a lot of what was happening.

"We had some good looks on Saturday night. (Lehtonen) was equal to the task. If that's going on, how do we define ourselves positionally, how we define ourselves with the areas of the ice that we're going to, to apply constant pressure, to apply as much pressure as we can so we do give ourselves strength in numbers in volume as far as chances towards their net."

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Blues feel they have an identity, not using injuries as excuse

Team looks to regroup after losing third-period
leads in back-to-back losses over weekend to Dallas

ST. LOUIS -- In the early stages of a season, teams often use that time to not only establish themselves by winning games but also to find an identity.

For the Blues, that played itself out quite nicely through 12 games as the team jumped out of the gates 9-1-2.

But injuries can tend to derail a team's quest to find out who they really are.

The Blues, 12-7-3 at the quarter point of the season, have certainly had their share of injuries to deal with. Losing four key cogs (forwards T.J. Oshie and David Perron as well as defensemen Roman Polak and Barret Jackman who's since returned) can definitely throw a squad off-kilter.

But the Blues are not using that as an excuse. They know who they are and feel good about who they are becoming.

"With Osh gone and Perry and Roman, those are three pretty big players," said defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who played a game-high 25 minutes, 36 seconds Saturday. "But those are no excuses. We've got to start playing 60 minutes. We played two pretty good hockey games this weekend. We've just got to find a way to win (them)."

The Blues head into a new week on the heels of two disheartening losses -- both to Dallas in back-to-back games -- in which they led both heading into the third period.

The Blues led the Stars 2-1 in Dallas on Friday, only to fall 3-2. They also led here Saturday 1-0 and saw that lead evaporate in a 2-1 loss.

The Blues' seven regulation losses and three overtime/shootout losses have come as a result of not doing what they do best for a full 60 minutes:

"If you look at the majority of our losses, it's been five, 10, 15 minutes where we've got off-track and stopped skating and stopped getting pucks behind teams," said forward B.J. Crombeen, whose goal Saturday gave the Blues a one-goal lead in the second period. "It usually comes back and bites us. They score one, two, three goals and that's the difference in the game. We've got to make sure we're playing our game for a full 60 and I think we'll have good results.

"If you look at how our team plays, we try to play the same way every night. When we're getting pucks behind people, skating with it (and) getting it to the net, that seems to be our identity. We've had some success when we've done it. We've just got to make sure we're doing it for 60 minutes because the nights we haven't done it, it's come back and bit us."

The Blues opened Saturday with a flurry. They outshot the Stars 13-4 and got pucks in deep, got them into the middle of the offensive zone and they skated with a purpose. For whatever reason, the last two third periods they've gotten away from that identity and it was the Stars, who have beaten the Blues three times already this season, that found another gear.

"I liked a lot of what we did in the first period," said Blues coach Davis Payne, whose team threw 36 shots Saturday at Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen. "... We had most of our good interior looks in the first period. We had a couple key offensive chances in the third period that didn't happen. Lehtonen makes a big save on Backes' tip there late, but again, we've got a 1-0 lead. It's one thing to have a team come back on you when you're playing direct, playing to the right spots and continuing to apply pressure. The (first) game in Dallas (on Oct. 16) is a perfect example. We didn't back off at all. I don't think we backed off from a work ethic standpoint. We got ourselves back to the outside and it's an ineffective game against a team like Dallas that is going to give you all the outside space you need. They'll own the interior part of the ice.

"I don't think we worked any less. I think we worked to the wrong areas of the ice. I'm not saying we didn't work in this hockey game from start to finish. I'm saying we worked into spaces that Dallas was going to give us. It's very tough to generate offense if that's where you're going to decide to play. We played in the right spot in the first period, the second two not enough."

The Blues have had a see-saw time of it this season. They've had a seven-game winning streak along with a five-game slide. But no matter how much experience everyone continues to gain, there seems to always be that learning curve that one can never get enough of.

"Every team goes through some ups and downs," said goaltender Jaroslav Halak, who has certainly seen his share of ups and downs. "It's up to them how they respond the next game. We lost two games in a row right now. It's going to be up to us to respond the next game in Chicago.

"It's tough to lose the games like this going into the third with the lead. We need to learn how to play these types of games and these types of games we need to win."

The Blues were 7-0-1 with the lead going into the third period. But after the weekend losses to Dallas, it's time to regroup.

"Learning how to win? No, I think we know how to do that," Payne said. "I just think we need to be consistent in some areas that make a difference for us.

"I think the biggest thing is learning how to rely upon our game again. ... We've got to make sure that the team game and the team pressure that we apply has to be consistent. I thought it was there in the first period like it was (Friday) night. We got ourselves a little misdirected. ... If this is something that we're obviously going to have to go through, then we're going to have to go through it and be better for it."

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Perron speaks for first time since concussion

Forward admits that he's inching closer
to return, frustrated by slow process

ST. LOUIS -- It's been 24 days since David Perron has seen the light of day when it comes to the frozen water.

It was Nov. 4 when Perron literally had his world rocked by the hulking body of San Jose's Joe Thornton.

What started out as headaches have ensued into a concussion, one that has kept the Blues' left winger sidelined for 12 games.

Perron, who has five goals and seven points through 10 games, is slowly but surely getting better. It's just taking a but longer than teammates Cam Janssen and Carlo Colaiacovo -- who also have suffered concussions this season -- have endured.

Perron is playing hockey these days. Unfortunately, it's with his remote control and not a stick.

"I can actually play video games now," Perron said Saturday night prior to the Blues' home game with the Dallas Stars. "Before, all I could do is rest."

Perron said two weeks after Thornton leveled him near center ice that sent the Blues' winger crashing to the ice, he experienced headaches by driving a car. Video games made him dizzy ... everything made him dizzy.

However, Perron said Saturday that he's "close" to being symptom free.

He has to be symptom-free for 48 hours before undergoing the standard concussion testing. Then, he could resume light skating until he feels well enough to resume practicing.

"It's getting better," said Perron. "A little headache, not much of it, but we're looking to be symptom-free. The last four or five days, it's been staying the same in terms of the headache, but everything in terms of dizziness, I haven't felt anything lately.

"It's been kind of frustrating and disappointing that it's been this slow. But at the same time, I'm still positive and getting my rest and I hope to come back soon. The good thing is, it's getting better."

Naturally, Blues general manager Doug Armstrong grew concerned as the days led to weeks.

"I'm not sure if worried is the correct term, but obviously, you're wondering when there's going to be a break," Armstrong said. "I've talked to a lot of (general) managers around the league who have players in the same situation and they say that just one day the player walks in and says they're ready to play.

"We're hoping that is sooner than later with David. As much as we'd like to get David back in the lineup, I'm sure no one wants to be back in the lineup more than David. I know when he feels ready and comfortable, he'll be ready to play."

Perron didn't want to comment about the hit after the game, a 2-0 Blues victory over the Sharks in which Perron, in fact, came back and scored.

Thornton received a two-game suspension for the hit, but Perron, who said he doesn't blame the Sharks center, had no chance to see what was about to transpire.

Thornton was coming out of the box when Perron got flattened.

"It's frustrating to see that it's like that in today's NHL," Perron said. "I couldn't see him coming out of the box. You can tell on the video -- I watched it many times -- and you can tell that I looked up the ice a couple of times. As I looked down to get the pass, he stepped out of the box and takes two steps and hits me.

"Obviously he's not trying to hurt me there. He doesn't know it's going to go on this long and I'm going to miss this many games, so obviously he wouldn't do that."

The Blues felt like the punishment fit the crime.

"I thought the league dealt with it fairly and correctly," Armstrong said. "They took their time (and) they looked at the criteria for a suspension. There was no intent for something like this to happen. It's just something that happens in our game."

It's obvious Perron was not and has not been faking any sort of injury, as some analysts -- national media types included -- initially claimed.

"It was disappointing to see the media -- some of them -- what they said about me faking it and then coming back into the game," Perron said. "It was frustrating at first because I knew what my symptoms were, but it's over. It's no big deal. I like the support I got from the fans, and the coaches and the players have been there for me."

There is no timetable for Perron's return, but the signs appear to be positive with the latest developments.

Blues blow another lead to Stars, fall 2-1

Dallas sweeps home-and-home after scoring
twice in final period for second night in a row

ST. LOUIS -- After losing a third-period lead against the Dallas Stars 24 hours earlier, one would think the Blues learned their lesson.

It couldn't happen again, could it?

Unfortunately, it was the same scenario for the Blues: a one-goal lead heading into the final 20 minutes.

Not only did the leads vanish, so did the would-be victories.

The Stars got third-period goals from Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson five-plus minutes into the third period and stunned the Blues once again, this time 2-1 Saturday night before 19,150 at Scottrade Center, the Blues' first home loss in regulation this season.

The Blues (12-7-3), who led 2-1 Friday night in Dallas before losing 3-2, were in the same position with a 1-0 lead on B.J. Crombeen's first career goal against his former team. But the Stars (13-8-1) found that gear that they used against the Blues in Dallas the previous night and brought it with them on the flight north to St. Louis and used it once again.

"It got away from us in the fact that we didn't expend the lead," said Blues coach Davis Payne, whose squad outshot Dallas once again by a 36-23 count. "I think in the second period and at the start of the third, we got ourselves to the outside; not enough internal pressure, not enough internal options as far as the offensive zone play went. That allowed that one mistake to matter.

"We have to execute for a full 60 minutes into the spaces that we did in the first period. We got ourselves to the right spot. We had the right possessions, but we came off of that and even if it was a little, it was too much."

Crombeen, who scored his third of the season by banging in Patrik Berglund's shot that squirted through the pads of Kari Lehtonen with one minute, 11 seconds remaining in the second, was paired on the Berglund line with Brad Winchester and the trio created some buzz in the game.

But the Blues, who came into the weekend home-and-home set with Dallas 7-0-1 with the lead going into the third period, saw two of them slip away.

"It's kind of a tough thing to pin down," said Crombeen, who was waived by the Stars in 2008 and claimed by the Blues. "I think if we knew, we would have made the adjustment and fixed it. They're an opportunistic team. We, for whatever reason, let up off the gas a little bit both nights for about five or 10 minutes and they found a way to put some pucks in the net. It cost us two points in both games.

"Playing against your former team, you want to do well, but the bigger picture, we lost the last two games, so that kind of stings more than any personal success."

Jaroslav Halak, who played for the third time in four nights, allowed both goals in high short side.

Benn, who scored a shorthanded goal against the Blues Friday that tied the score 2-2, beat Halak with a snap shot from the right circle 1:05 into the third on a shot that seemed to handcuff the Blues' netminder.

"No, I wasn't surprised," said Halak, who allowed two goals on 23 shots after giving up three goals on 24 shots Friday. "I need to stop shots like that."

Eriksson, who also beat Halak from the slot 5:30 into the third period with a high shot near side, took a pass from Brad Richards after Halak stopped Stephane Robidas' initial shot from the point.

The power play goal snapped a streak of 31 consecutive road power plays the Stars failed to score on. They were 1-for-31 on the season coming into Saturday's game with the power play on the road.

"It was a broken play. It was a rebound," Halak said. "(Eriksson) shot it high and it went over me. It was a good shot, but at the same time, I need to make the big saves for our team and I didn't tonight.

"We played them last night and the same thing happened. We had the lead going into the third and we blew it. ... Tonight, I need to make the stops."

The Blues, 0-2-1 against the Stars this season, have scored the first goal in each game, only to see Dallas come back in all three.

On Oct. 16, the Blues grabbed a 2-0 lead less than four minutes into the game, but the Stars scored twice in the second and won the game 3-2 in a shootout. Friday night, the Blues led 1-0 and 2-1 before Dallas won it with two in the third. And Saturday, it was two more third-period goals that doomed the Blues.

"You look at the first game, we doubled them in shots," Payne said. "We got off to the 2-0 lead and weren't able to extend it. We had a ton of chances in that hockey game. It was a little bit different.

"Then (Friday) night, we are in a position to take a lead into the third period but weren't able to sustain, weren't able to generate the chances that against a skilled group, you're going to have to find a way to get that next one. Tonight was a perfect example of that. We found ourselves with a 1-0 lead and played to some perimeter space in the offensive zone. We stopped taking that stride and we allowed one play to sit out there and have the potential to make a difference in the hockey game. We have to be more direct. It's not just sitting back relying on the Backes line to win us hockey games. We need everybody playing in the right spaces."

The Blues, who did not get their first shot on goal until roughly midway through the third period, were relegated to the perimeter in the offensive zone.

"It was a pretty hard-fought game, especially around the net," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "We've got to put a few more pucks to the net there and bang and crash. Obviously, look what happens when Beener goes to the net hard, it's a goal. Little things go a hard way right now."

The Blues, 8-1-1 on home ice, were not going to go unbeaten here, but losing in this fashion is what bothers them.

"It would be nice if we won all 82 (games)," Pietrangelo said. "It's a tough one to lose whether we've lost all (nine) at home or not. It's a tough one to give away, especially going through the same thing last night.

"These are games you've got to win, especially when you've got the lead 1-0. We have to start closing those teams (out). It's a tough one to lose, but you've got to learn from it and move forward here."

The Blues had a golden opportunity in the first -- when they outshot the Stars 13-4 -- to grab a one-goal lead, but Chris Porter slid a rebound across the goal crease with a wide open net.

It was that kind of weekend for the Blues.

* NOTES -- Coming into the game, the Blues' top line of David Backes, Andy McDonald and Brad Boyes combined for 28 points in the last eight games. McDonald had 12 points (six goals, six assists), Backes (two goals, six assists) and Boyes (four goals, four assists) each had eight. ... Forward Matt D'Agostini, who had 6 goals in 14 games, is now goalless in last eight. ... Forward Alex Steen is now pointless in six straight games. ... Defenseman Erik Johnson has played 20 minutes or more in 21 of the Blues' 22 games. He leads the team in average ice time per game (23:32).

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Berglund quietly making his mark

Center is second on team in points, shaking off sophomore slump

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- When the summer months kicked in this past season, Patrik Berglund took it upon himself to do what was right for his career.

When Berglund was looking ahead to the 2010-11 season, he was looking to make drastic changes to his lifestyle both on and off the ice to better himself as a hockey player.

Berglund spent the summer here in St. Louis. He trained hard, he worked out vigorously, he ate properly, he rested accordingly, among other vital habits.

If there has been a knack on Berglund's National Hockey League career, it's been defined by one word: inconsistent.

But one thing those following the Vasteras, Sweden native must keep in perspective is that he's only 22 years old.

However, it goes to show those critical of the 2006 first-round pick that he has taken on a maturation process.

"He comes to the rink each day knowing that he's going to play a huge part," Blues coach Davis Payne said of his second-line center. "His level and his correction to any sort of play has been immediate. The next morning, the conversation knowing that he wasn't good enough and that he'll be better, he's usually got his game directed very quickly. That's the sign of not only a kid who's maturing but a guy who's increasing in that mental toughness area."

Berglund, coming off a disappointing sophomore season of 13 goals and 26 points, has had some inconsistent games so far through 19 games for the Blues this season, but he is second on the team to Andy McDonald in points with 13 (five goals, eight assists). So he's already half way to his entire output of a season ago.

At this pace, Berglund will set career highs in goals (22), assists (34) and points (56) based on the quarter projection that the Blues will hit when they face the Nashville Predators tonight in Nashville.

To say Berglund has quietly put up the second-best point output on the team would be stating the obvious. He's quiet and soft-spoken by nature.

"I have gotten some points and I think being stronger on the puck and playing on the inside has allowed me to do that," Berglund said. "I know I have some skill, and when the puck's close, you know you can use that skill."

The key is having the puck around him at all times, which Berglund was not doing a season ago.

Berglund would get himself caught playing the game along the boards instead of using that 6-foot-4, 218-pound frame. But working extensively at times with assistant coach Scott Mellanby has given Berglund a different perspective of the game. And it's paying off in positive fashion.

"You have to be strong in there, but you get more into the games when you're around all the plays," Berglund said, who is also making a point of improving his play in the defensive end of the ice as well. "Before, when you're spending too much on the outside, you're not part of the plays and you don't really know what you're going to do when you get the pucks. I get the puck more on the inside and that's what I'm going to keep doing."

Berglund began the season flanked by McDonald and Brad Boyes as his wingers but now plays with the flashy Matt D'Agostini and big-bodied Brad Winchester. Regardless of who's playing with Berglund, the goals remain the same. The game doesn't change.

Needless to say, the start to this season has gone a whole lot better than at this time a season ago when, at times, Berglund was aghast on the ice and struggling with his confidence.

"It's gone a whole lot differently than last year obviously," said Berglund, who after 19 games a season ago had five points (three goals, two assists). "I think I'm just more part of the game, I'm more stronger on the puck out there. That's the reason I'm playing better."

Added D'Agostini, "Bergy's the kind of guy who can be an elite player in this league. He's got the size, the speed and the skill to take over games ... to be a dynamic player in this league. He's showed good glimpses of it when he carries that puck in. He uses his body and his strength to guard off people.

"He creates space and he's got a lot of speed so he's always up in the play," D'Agostini said. "He's good defensively. We've been kind of struggling the last couple games (as a line), but at the same time, we're getting some goals. We know we've got another level we can kick in so hopefully we get there."

Berglund, who saw a five-game point streak snapped Saturday against New Jersey (one goal, seven assists), knows the bar has been raised. And he's approaching each challenge as if he has something to prove.

"His bar has come up, so we've seen some levels of above," Payne said. "We've still seen some inconsistencies, but that has been at a much higher performance level. A degree of variance, if you want to call it that, has been a higher level of play. We feel he's doing the right things on his line. There are certainly some things we feel he can do better on some nights, but for the better part of 19 games so far, he's been responsible in his own end, he's been diligent on the forecheck, he's been shooting pucks and getting to the right areas and he looks real comfortable with the situation on the power plays. He's executing like we know he's capable of doing. It's up to us to make sure we're continuing to push and get better every day."

Streaky play is what Berglund is trying to avoid. And when games don't go accordingly, he's allowing the mental toughness to help him get past it and look ahead.

"Those bad games, I have been maturing," Berglund said. "When you have those bad games, yeah it's not a lot of fun, but you let it go and you move onto the next one.

"Maybe before you were thinking about it too much. I think we have good balance on the team too, so you don't have too much on your head after a game like that. Obviously, you take a look at a couple things you can improve on and after that, you can move on. I think one day, it's enough thinking about a (bad) game and then you move onto the next one and you're ready to roll. You know what you have to do and you take out a couple points in your head that you want to be good at in the (next) game and go from there."

Berglund, who has 86 career points in 166 games, feels that there's never a time when a player will peak. As long as he plays, he says he'll strive to improve.

"He's very conscious of his play," Payne said of Berglund. "He's very aware of what the good performance is and what the poor performance is. Sometimes with an athlete, that's half the battle. It's very easy to point out things that he can get better at. He's very willing to work on those to emphasize those so he is better the next time out."

Added Berglund, who is a plus-4 this season, "I can develop every game for my entire career. You will never be perfect. There's always stuff you can work on. I'm enjoying that part and it allows me to be a better player."


Jackman could return to lineup tonight;
Blues ahead of last season's pace

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The Blues could get a big boost to their lineup tonight when they play at Nashville against the Predators.

Veteran defenseman Barret Jackman, out since Nov. 4 with a sprained right knee, skated once again at full strength Tuesday at St. Louis Mills and could make his return to the lineup tonight.

Could is the operative word here, as coach Davis Payne would not tip his hand despite being pleased with Jackman's progress since hitting the ice.

"He looked better today," Payne said Tuesday. "This is what we're looking for, the response after the intensity and the volume of work goes up. I think we had a real good response. We'll see how that pans out as the day goes on. We wake up in Nashville tomorrow and obviously have a decision to make."

The decision could be the Blues keep seven defensemen on the current roster and make one of the last pairing (either Tyson Strachan or Nikita Nikitin) a healthy scratch, or they could option Nikitin to Peoria of the American Hockey League and allow the big Russian to play there.

* Blues hit quarter point -- The Blues, 11-5-3 are ahead of their pace of a season ago when they were 7-8-4.

One big reason why the Blues are off to such a terrific start is the play on home ice.

The Blues, who are the only team in the league without a regulation home loss, are 8-0-1 on Scottrade Center ice. The only blip on the radar is a shootout loss Nov. 11 against Nashville.

The Blues, at this time a season ago, were 2-7-1 at Scottrade Center.

"At this point, they're not going to start stringing banners around here, blowing horns or anything like that because we've put ourselves in a good position," Payne said. "This is what we've had to do. You look at our conference, you have to do it now, you have to do it over the next 20 (games), the third quarter and then the fourth quarter. It's the way it is. It's all part of having success and getting into the playoffs. We've got to now be better on the road. We know when there's areas of our game that don't go well, we've got to tighten those up. It's an adjustment and it's a growing process every day. We're not looking to hang our hats on anything just yet."

The Blues, who were among the best road teams in the NHL a season ago, are 3-5-2 away from home ice.

"We've played good hockey," Payne said. "We don't talk about making sure our home record is good. We talk about making sure we play good hockey at home, making sure we play good hockey on the road. ... We never got into conversation of yeah, we needed to start well, we needed to reclaim home ice. We knew there was work to be done, we knew if it hadn't happened, we'd still have work to do. That's a product of the work we've put in. We've got to keep doing it. It's as simple as that."

* Winchester earning his keep -- Brad Winchester, who has mainly played on the Blues' fourth line this season prior to suffering a knee contusion, has played some of his best hockey since joining the Blues two seasons ago.

The past couple games, Winchester has found himself playing on the Blues' second line with Patrik Berglund and Matt D'Agostini.

"We want to be a merit-based hockey club," Payne sad. "So guys that are getting the job done, guys that are doing the job continue to get more opportunity. Winny's been a guy that's done his job very well, (he's) gaining an opportunity and now he's doing that next job well. He'll continue to get that ice time."

* Perron continues to sit -- Payne said Tuesday that there is nothing new to report on Blues forward David Perron, out since suffering a concussion on Nov. 4 against San Jose.

"There's no updates on any of the concussion symptoms," Payne said. "He's out with a concussion. He's day-to-day until there's some more information. Right now, that's the information we have. Of course, we were concerned right from the time it happened. These things are difficult to deal with and we have to be very careful. That's where it sits with him right now."

* Who's in goal? -- Payne wouldn't drop his guard, but it is expected that Jaroslav Halak, who blanked the Predators in Nashville on Oct. 28, will get the start in goal for the Blues tonight.

"We haven't made that decision, so can't divulge at this point," Payne said.

The Blues will play three games in four nights beginning tonight, so it is also expected that Ty Conklin will see action at some point.

The Blues will immediately fly out of Nashville following the game and go to Dallas, where they will face the Stars Friday night. The two teams will meet again here in St. Louis Saturday.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Power play gaining steam after tough stretch

Blues have goal in five straight games, going
6-for-19 in that period after 0-for-25 drought

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Two weeks ago, the Blues' power play was falling into oblivion with no end in sight.

Or at least at the time, the team would like to have forgotten just how paltry the results had been.

The Blues went six games (0-for-25) without a man-advantage goal. Their numbers had sunk to levels that were among the league's worst that stood at 7-for-66 (10.7 percent).

But as all teams go through with their power play, penalty kill and overall team play, there are peaks and valleys.

Since their game on Nov. 13 at Phoenix, the Blues began what is now a peak on the power play. They have scored at least one man-advantage goal in a season-high five straight games, going 6-for-19 in that stretch.

The numbers still can be greatly improved (they're 13-for-85 on the season, which translates to 15.2 percent). But the 5-percent jump in the last five games is a sign that the execution and results on the man-advantage have changed for the better. They are 20th in the league with the man-advantage.

"I think we've stuck with it," said winger Brad Boyes, who has two power play goals during this stretch and leads the team with three. "There's times where we've had good movement, we've had some good opportunities, good chances and it wasn't going in for us. I think we're getting the bounces. ... We're keeping the units somewhat the same. We're getting familiar with each other again, which is nice. I think now, we're getting those bounces and they're going in.

"We've found ways to get away from that pressure, move it side-to-side. We're getting entries and entries are getting back (to the point). That's been another big part of our plays."

Opponents' penalty killers were having success pressuring the Blues into making mistakes, forcing them to take too much time gaining entry into the offensive zone and in essence, not giving the five-man unit enough time to get any continuity going.

The power play was a mess, but the Blues didn't stray away from what they wanted to do. They found that with the right personnel, they would get things straightened out.

"We always knew we had the opportunity to have a good power play," defenseman Erik Johnson said. "I think we just simplified things. I think if you look at our rush entries and all that, we've gotten more simple and we're rimming pucks and retrieving. We've had a good work ethic and outworked the penalty kill.

"You can only write up and script so much. It's a lot of using your instincts. We knew we had a group capable of scoring power play goals. It just wasn't going in for us and we were gripping our sticks too tight. I think that had a factor to do with it as well. We always knew we'd turn it around and it would help us win some games."

The fact that the Blues are using a lot of the same players on each group indicates that there is chemistry developing. Alex Steen and Alex Pietrangelo are manning the points on the top unit, with Boyes and Matt D'Agostini on the wings and David Backes in the middle. Johnson and Carlo Colaiacovo make up the point men on the second unit, with Brad Winchester clogging the middle and Patrik Berglund and Andy McDonald positioned in the circles.

"We're getting ourselves to areas that we can defuse some of the opponents' pressure," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "I think we've done a much better job handling that. That's allowed us to get our offensive zone time started. It's allowed us to get into some looks that we feel we can attack with.

"I think most importantly, we're not waiting to get set up. Everybody talks about getting the power play set up. There's a lot of opportunity there to attack out of the initial pressure. We're doing a very good job making reads as far as where we're going with the puck under pressure ... blind releases is how we term it; getting a puck to an area where we can go ahead and execute from there."

Opponents have taken notice that the Blues have heated up on the power play, and that has alleviated the pressure applied when the Blues have had possession.

"The predictability and handling the pressure has been probably the biggest thing," Payne said. "When we were going through that tough stretch when the power play wasn't working, pressure was very effective against us. We didn't handle it, didn't put pucks to the right areas, didn't extend that zone time so that the PK guy has about 15-20 seconds of real hard pressure in the zone and all of the sudden, he's got to make a little bit different read based on fatigue levels. We've gotten to that point. ... We've done a much better job (with) net pressure, Winchester and Backes in particular. The guys are supporting the puck a little bit better as well."


Jackman could play Wednesday; Perron still not skating

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- It was another good day on the ice for Blues defenseman Barret Jackman on Monday.

What does that mean?

Well, it could quite possibly see the veteran return to the Blues' lineup as early as Wednesday.

Jackman, out since spraining his right knee on Nov. 4 against San Jose, took part in his first practice with the team that included contact drills.

Jackman began skating on his own last week, participated in con-contact drills Saturday but was involved in full-scale drills Monday at St. Louis Mills.

"Things are coming along," Jackman said. "You see the doctors every once in a while, they check it out along the process. They've been happy with the progress. It's nothing miraculous. We're almost at three weeks right now. They said 3-4, so the timeline's right there.

"A couple days of contact is key. You skate on your own, I've got nobody to pass the puck to, nobody to give me passes. There's game situations and (Monday), we did some neutral zone forecheck and things where you've got to use your vision and move your feet. There's some down-low battling where you change your direction quick and you've got people leaning on you. It's all things you have to do to get your body back into game shape."

When asked if Jackman could play Wednesday, Blues coach Davis Payne sounded upbeat by the notion.

"We think that there's a possibility," Payne said. "We're going to make sure that today was a good day for him with the extra bumping and battling that was going on out there, make sure everything responds correctly and positively and we'll make that assessment tomorrow.

"He looked pretty good out there. He was skating pretty hard the past couple days. It's a matter of getting him up to battle pace, speed of execution. He's cleared. Obviously, we're checking in on the progress made today and see where that gets us tomorrow."

* Steen given day off -- Blues winger Alex Steen was a noticeable absentee from Blues practice Monday that had some wondering if some sort of injury occurred Saturday against New Jersey.

Payne squashed that notion quickly.

"A couple bumps and bruises," he said. "Just a maintenance day off the ice for him."

* Perron still in limbo -- Monday marked 18 days since David Perron last saw action for the Blues.

That's nine games ago.

Perron, who was at the rink Monday and has been a regular recently, still is a non-participant on the ice and Payne said there is nothing new to report. He's been out with a concussion suffered from a hit by the Sharks' Joe Thornton.

"No update," Payne said.

So it appears Perron will certainly miss Wednesday's game in Nashville and likely the weekend home-and-home series with Dallas.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Blues' D contributing to the O

Blueliners come up with four big goals leading
to pair of wins over weekend, double season output

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues' defensive unit has been counted on for many things this season. And it was this unit -- despite the hit it took with injuries to Roman Polak and Barret Jackman -- that was a key contributor to becoming the league's stingiest defense through the first month of the season.

But through 17 games, the Blues had only gotten four goals from their blueliners, a number that coach Davis Payne surely would like to see go up.

After all, the back line contributed 33 goals a season ago and was among the league leaders in that category.

The Blues entered the weekend back-to-back home games against Ottawa and New Jersey on a five-game winless slide (0-4-1). But wins over the Senators (5-2) and Devils (3-2) came at the most opportune time.

And it was the d-men that provided key plays, not only defensively but offensively.

The defensemen doubled their goal total for the season with four big goals, two Friday (Carlo Colaiacovo and Eric Brewer) and two Saturday (Alex Pietrangelo and Brewer) that led to the big wins.

Dating back to the post-lockout year, the Blues got 29 goals from their d-men in 2005-06, 21 in 2006-07, 15 in 2007-08 and 2008-09 and jumped up to 33 a season ago.

Besides Erik Johnson, who tallied 10 goals a season ago, the Blues don't have that heavy goal-scorers from the back line, so it's a chip-in by committee factor that is what the team is counting on.

"Backhand production is critical in this league," Payne said. "It's critical in our success, whether that's on the rush or a secondary offensive chance. ... That's a five-man, 200-foot mentality where you've got to come up ice as hard as you come back.

"(Friday) night, we had a lot of D-to-D opportunity. (Saturday) night, we had to go strong-side, straight to the net. We get one off the back wall and it ends up as a goal."

So what was the difference this past weekend? Good bounces? Perhaps. Shot selection? Sure. High percentage shots? Definitely.

Whatever the case, the Blues will take all the goals they can get from their back six.

Colaiacovo leads the way with three goals, Brewer has two, Pietrangelo, Johnson and the injured Polak each have one.

"I think we're continuing to shoot the puck and get some good looks," said Brewer, who came into the weekend with no points. "We've really been working on that. I think we've done a reasonable job of it up to this point.

"I think you can never shoot enough personally, but I don't think we've been getting rewarded for a lot of that stuff that has been going on. The last few days, we have been. It just works out like that sometimes."

There were 23 points contributed to the Blues' scoring eight goals this past weekend. Nine of them came off sticks of the defensemen.

"The offense has been there the whole season," said Pietrangelo, who picked up his first goal of the season and second of his career. "I think just now, we're getting the bounces. Brew got one last game, he got one (Saturday). I just think right now, it's all coming together and we're getting the bounces."

If there's anything Payne will preach to his d-men when attacking the goal, it's to shoot the puck and shoot it as often as opportunities exist. Because when they do, it not only gives those guys chances to score, but others as well on tips, redirections and off rebounds.

"You just look at the percentages," Payne said. "Those guys keep shooting pucks from back there. If we're getting people to the net, it gets real effective."

Added Brewer, "The D have been up the ice and making a lot of good plays. ... We're working on it."

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Winchester's goal difference in 3-2 victory over Devils

Blues remain unbeaten in regulation at home
despite average effort; Halak rebounds with 35-save effort

ST. LOUIS -- Maybe it wasn't their best game. However, if the Blues can get wins, that's all that matters.

Playing a New Jersey team that's one point away from the bottom of the league and one night removed from a home win that snapped a five-game winless skid, the Blues had to restart the batteries and embrace another challenge.

A pair of fortuitous bounces kept the Blues at bay, then Brad Winchester, who was first elevated to the third line, then to the second line, found himself in one of those customary spots on the ice that a power forward needs to occupy.

Winchester, who got perfect position near the front of the net, redirected Tyson Strachan's point shot past St. Louis native Mike McKenna 5 minutes, 15 seconds into the third period and that goal stood up to give the Blues a 3-2 victory over the Devils before 19,150 at Scottrade Center.

The Blues (11-5-3) are now 8-0-1 on home ice and are the league's only remaining team without a regulation loss at home after Vancouver was beaten by Chicago late Saturday night. They also now own a 12-game winning streak against Eastern Conference opponents dating back to last season.

But this win didn't come without some anxious moments.

First, Jaroslav Halak, who came into the game on a personal 0-3-1 streak, allowed a goal on the first shot he faced. Then, the Blues were struggling throughout the night with the Devils' forecheck and attack mode.

But in the end, the Blues were able to persevere even when they may not have been their best against the Devils (5-13-2).

"Tonight, it was just a matter of finding a way," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "We really didn't have the jump that was necessary. We made some mental errors, we made some positional errors.

"There was lots of try, there was lots of intent, which is something we talked about at great length, but Jersey came in and had a lot of possession, had a lot of skills players that we had to expend energy defending. We just found a way. It was really that simple."

Winchester, who has two goals in three games, saw Strachan get into position to fire a puck and was able to redirect a shot that appeared to go wide past McKenna, a Parkway South product who was making his Devils debut after being recalled on emergency conditions Friday.

"It was a great shot by (Strachan)," Winchester said. "Certainly that's something I work on a lot in practice. It doesn't even have to be on net, just in an area where you can get a stick on it. I was able to get the tip there, so it's good."

Halak, who gave up 19 goals in his previous four starts, was able to brush off the goal by David Clarkson that gave the Devils a lead just 26 seconds into the game.

Halak would go on to stop 35 shots.

"After the first goal, I was trying to reset and trying to start over," said Halak, who collected his ninth win of the season exactly two weeks after his last victory. "... That's not the start you want to have, but it was early in the game. You can't let your teammates down."

The fortuitous bounces came in goals from Alex Pietrangelo and Eric Brewer.

Pietrangelo potted his first goal of the season and second of his career as he swooped in a puck that was sitting under McKenna in a pile of players.

The Devils around the play had thought the puck was frozen and the whistle was going to blow, but the referee behind the goal indicated that the puck was loose.

Pietrangelo seemed to be the only one who knew and tied the game 1-1 9:22 into the opening period.

"It was kind of a scramble play sitting in front," Pietrangelo said. "It was just sitting there right behind (McKenna). He was in his butterfly, and all their guys were kind of on a bad angle, so they didn't see it sitting there. I heard the ref say it's between the legs, so I just slid it in."

Mattias Tedenby gave the Devils a 2-1 lead 9:53 into the second period, converting a breakaway chance after a Jay McClement turnover in the Devils zone, and the visitors were poised to get a two-goal lead with pressure throughout much of the period.

But Brewer, who also scored in Friday's 5-2 win over Ottawa, netted his second in two games after his shot from near the blue line caromed off the back boards, hit McKenna in the backside and into the net with 1:02 to play in the second to tie the game 2-2.

It was the kind of break the Blues desperately needed and one that had been going against them during their losing streak.

"They happen sometimes," Brewer said. "We've had a few against us lately. The hockey gods are watching, I guess. Just got a lucky bounce.

"It was good for a game like tonight because we were struggling to get our speed and kind of take over the pace of the game. It was good to kind of come in and know that we had to play well for 20 minutes and we'd have a really good opportunity to win."

McKenna, who stopped 24 shots in his Devils debut, found himself in some bad-luck situations playing in front of family and friends.

Especially on Brewer's goal.

"I saw it come off the boards like a rocket and I couldn't either get out of the way of it or control it," McKenna said. "You know it's frustrating. I don't know if we could script something like that even in practice if we wanted to.

"I'd be lying to you if I didn't tell you I was as nervous as I had ever been tonight," McKenna added. "We tried to stay as even-keeled as possible knowing how many people were coming and how many people were happy for me and how many people just wanted to see me succeed. It's overwhelming, but it was a lot of fun. But once the game gets rolling, all that goes away."

NOTES -- Blues center David Backes has a six-game point streak. Andy McDonald and Patrik Berglund had five-game point streaks snapped. ... McDonald, Backes and Brad Boyes have 21 points in the last five games, including two points against the Devils after Backes and Boyes assisted on Pietrangelo's goal. ... The Blues were without defensemen Barret Jackman (knee) and Roman Polak (wrist), left winger David Perron (concussion) and right winger T.J. Oshie (broken ankle).

(11-20-10) Devils-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- With a plethora of injuries, it's always a good sign seeing those on the mend skating.

Such was the case for injured Blues defensemen Barret Jackman and Roman Polak.

Jackman, who skated for a third consecutive day this morning prior to the Blues facing the New Jersey Devils later on tonight, is recovering from a sprained knee suffered against San Jose on Nov. 4. The Blues said it would be a three-week period before Jackman is reevaluated.

Judging by his sudden stops and go movements, cuts and pivots on the ice Saturday, there's a chance Jackman will be on the ice with the squad for games at some point late next week, maybe as early as Wednesday against Nashville but realistically against Dallas in the home-and-home series next weekend.

"It's good. Just kind of being a part of the guys and actually getting on the ice with three or four guys, making some passes, shooting the puck and getting some skates in," Jackman said. "It feels better every day. You can't give a timeline or anything. You've just got to keep it going like we are. If everything gets on track, three weeks will be on Thursday. That's kind of what they were thinking when it happened. We'll just see the next few days."

Jackman was checked into the boards in his own end by the Sharks' Ryane Clowe early in the second period but continued to play that game.

"I knew I'd be done for a while," Jackman said, who went on to finish the game. "I got with the doctors right away and they said I couldn't make it any worse. I taped it up pretty good, put a brace on it ... the pain wasn't there yet and the adrenaline was still pumping through the body so I didn't feel anything until after the game and iced it."

With good movement on the ice Saturday, there were no signs Jackman has taken steps backwards. The Blues could use his shutdown ability in a lineup that struggled prior to winning on Friday.

"It was feeling good," Jackman said. "There's still soreness like you expect with that type of injury. We're just going to continue skating, get the legs under me and make sure that we're not rushing things.

"It's tough sitting on the sidelines at any point when your team is winning, you're not part of it and when the team's losing, you have no control over it. Either way, it's tough sitting out. You kind of get eager to get back in there."

As for Polak, the timeline is still another 5-6 weeks.

Polak, who severed a tendon in his right wrist on Oct. 23 against Pittsburgh, had the cast on his hand removed 10 days ago and is now wearing a splint.

"The next step is like 2 weeks in a splint and start skating a little bit," Polak said. "I started skating yesterday a little bit, today with the team a little bit. After they take it off, it's day by day. It depends on the rehab too."

Polak didn’t do any stick work with his injured right hand, only working with the left hand. And in the process, he is working on getting his conditioning back up to speed, thanks to team trainer Ray Barile.

"I didn't expect that," Polak laughed. "I figured after a month of not skating ... it was pretty hard."

Polak, who said he can move his fingers but not gripping anything, said the situation when it happened was different.

"I had movement with the hands, so I didn't think it was that serious," he said. "We checked everything, we checked the neuron’s and stuff as soon as it happened. I still had movement. We tried everything ... the finger-tips and stuff. Everything was alright, so I thought it was just a cut. Just let it heal and it's going to be fine. Got an MRI the next day and they found I cut a tendon, so I was kind of disappointed."

Polak will be reevaluated sometime during the first week in January to see when and if he can return. But all signs thus far are good.

- - -

They were thrown together last week in Phoenix, but the move by the Blues to put David Backes, Andy McDonald and Brad Boyes together has proven to be the right move.

In three-plus games, the trio has produced 19 points. McDonald leads the way with eight (three goals and five assists), Boyes has six (four goals, two assists) which includes a goal in four straight games and Backes has five points (one goal, four assists).

"It was put together at the end of Phoenix, and we've been playing pretty solid," Boyes said. "We've been playing for the most part against other team's top lines, and we're in their zone, controlling the puck. It's been good. We're feeding off each other and we've been getting things going early, which has been key for our line."

Said Backes, "I'd rather be off the scoresheet and us win than on the scoresheet. If you can combine the two like we did tonight, that's the best-case scenario. Our line's going to need to produce nightly to have some success, especially with the shortened roster that we have. Those guys have been working their butts off and creating a lot with their skill level and they're working. I'm trying to create a little space, so there's a lot of opportunities for us."

- - -

For the Blues to have offensive success, sometimes it has to come from the blue line.

Getting contributions from the back end was critical in Friday's 5-2 win over Ottawa, with Carlo Colaiacovo and Eric Brewer scoring goals. Alex Pietrangelo had a pair of assists in the game as well.

"Backhand production is critical in this league," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "It's critical in our success, whether that's on the rush or what you saw was a secondary offensive chance with Carlo's goal. We'd like to see that one go in a little earlier, but Carlo follows it up.

"That's a five-man, 200-foot game mentality where you've got to come up ice as hard as you come back. Carlo got to the right spot, goaltender (Brian Elliott of Ottawa) was down and he roofs it. ... It's very, very important for our team and good for Brew to get that one and Carlo to contribute."

- - -

The Blues, who are 11-0-0 against the Eastern Conference dating back to Jan. 21, 2010 (they fell at Ottawa 3-2 in their last loss), will stay with the same skaters for tonight's game:

Andy McDonald-David Backes-Brad Boyes

Alex Steen-Patrik Berglund-Matt D'Agostini

Brad Winchester-Jay McClement-B.J. Crombeen

Vladimir Sobotka-T.J. Hensick-Chris Porter

Cam Janssen, who began his NHL career in New Jersey, will be the healthy scratch.

The d-pairings will stay the same:

Eric Brewer-Alex Pietrangelo

Carlo Colaiacovo-Erik Johnson

Nikita Nikitin-Tyson Strachan

Jaroslav Halak, who is 1-3-1 with a 2.55 goals-against average and .923 save percentage for his career against the Devils, will get the start in goal.

- - -

The Devils (5-12-2) come in with the worst record in the league, but the added sidebar to this game is that native St. Louisan Mike McKenna, who went to Parkway South High School in suburban St. Louis his first two years, will make his Devils debut tonight in goal against his hometown team.

McKenna, recalled on Friday because of the right elbow injury to Martin Brodeur, had a brief stint with the Tampa Bay Lightning, where he was 4-8-1 with a 3.56 goals-against average and a .887 save percentage.

Making his first start against the team he grew up following is almost like a fairy tale. He was 2-3-0 with a 3.72 GAA and .882 save percentage with Albany of the AHL.

"It's nice to come home, but we're here for business," McKenna said Saturday morning. "We really need to win games. If we win the game, I'm going to have a lot of fun."

McKenna, 27, said it's just a coincidence he's making his debut against the Blues.

"I don't really believe in anything more than that," he said. "It's just dumb luck I guess that it happened like this. You don't ever want to see anyone (Brodeur) get injured, but if that's how you get a break, that's how it happens for us a lot of times. For me, I've really tried to put my best foot forward and tried to work my way back to the NHL over the past year. This is a step, so yeah, I'm excited to get back in."

Devils coach John MacLean thought it would be good karma.

"He's from here," MacLean said. "I've seen him play some big game. Maybe he can give us a spark. It's a good opportunity for him."

McKenna, who left Parkway South after his sophomore year, moved on to Springfield, Ill. and played for the Springfield Junior Blues of the North American Hockey League.

"I'm ready. It's just another game," McKenna said. "The first hometown game really isn't a whole lot different. I've had friends and family in stands before. It's not terribly different. It's not any different than watching it on TV. We're so globalized now that everybody sees everything.

"I really take a lot of pride in what I do and I feel I've earned things. We've had a tough year in Albany, myself included so far. It's a chance for me to prove myself not only at this level but for the organization again."

- - -

The Devils, with the NHL's highest payroll, will roll out the following lines:

Brian Rolston-Travis Zajac-David Clarkson

Ilya Kovalchuk-Dainius Zubrus-Alexander Vasyunov

Patrik Elias-Jason Arnott-Mattias Tedenby

Rod Pelley-Adam Mair-Stephen Gionta

The d-pairings include:

Henrik Tallinder-Colin White

Matthew Corrente-Andy Greene

Anton Volchenkov-Olivier Magnan

And in goal is Mike McKenna, who was recalled under emergency conditions.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Blues snap five-game slide, drop Senators

St. Louis improves to 7-0-1 on home ice with 5-2 victory

ST. LOUIS -- Once they figured it out, the Blues found that shots to the net without hesitation proved to be beneficial.

Down a goal and on their fourth power play, the Blues got back to doing what was winning games: pressure in the offensive zone, shots at the net and driving to the goal with conviction.

Scoring three times in a span of 1 minute, 26 seconds, the Blues finally were able to snap their five-game winless skid and Ty Conklin won his first game at Scottrade Center as a member of the Blues, who downed the Ottawa Senators 5-2 Friday night at Scottrade Center for their 11th consecutive win over an Eastern Conference foe dating back to last season.

Brad Boyes -- with his fourth goal in four games, Carlo Colaiacovo and Eric Brewer with his first point of the season snapped in goals for the Blues, who were 0-4-1 in their last five after winning seven in a row.

Patrik Berglund and Andy McDonald also scored for the Blues, who are now 7-0-1 on home ice and are the league's only team without a regulation loss at home.

But with all the good things that happened from the midway point of the game for the Blues, it was the gritty work of Brad Winchester that coach Davis Payne says ignited the squad.

Winchester, playing on the third line for the first time this season with Jay McClement and B.J. Crombeen, used a shift that led to the Blues' fourth power play. His grit and relentless effort around the Ottawa goal lit the fire that got the team going.

"Brad Winchester got out on a shift, got physical, established puck possession, established a determination level and made a great statement to our hockey club on how we're capable of playing regardless of what's happened in the past few games," Payne said. "I really felt that that shift ignited our club. It got us on the power play. It took us to the (fourth) power play to get the goal and get the game tied up, but he made a great statement there for our hockey club. I think that that's what propelled us. Obviously, the Boyes goal on the power play was the result of that, but a lot of credit to Winny getting us started there."

The Blues (10-5-3) trailed 1-0 at the time on a goal by the guy married to country-western singer Carrie Underwood -- Mike Fisher. They needed some sort of fire to get the team going towards that positive direction it had early in the season.

"It's an opportunity to control the puck down low," Winchester said. "I was able to take the puck weak-side and get a better stuff opportunity. It's something that is a part of my game, which is taking the puck to the net. ... It was a good shift."

On the ensuing power play, the Blues were able to discover their shooting touch and getting those shots off without hesitation. Boyes, in his customary position in the left circle, had a puck perfectly carom to him after Alex Pietrangelo's right point shot was partially tipped by David Backes to Boyes. Boyes hammered home his fifth of the season that started a string of three goals in 1:26.

"I'm getting a few good bounces," Boyes said. "... I was making sure that one goes in. It's good. I try not to think, just go out there and work. Sometimes, the bounces don't go. They're going so far. ... You've got to be in the right spot and when you're feeling it, you're going in the right spots and working to get there."

The Blues came into the game with four goals by defensemen all season and got two in a 35-second span from Colaiacovo and Brewer. Colaiacovo now has half of the defensive goal output of six. His goal came at 11:04 of the second period for a 2-1 lead and Brewer got his first at 11:39 on a wrister that had eyes, beating Brian Elliott high.

"It's great to be on the score sheet," Brewer said. "The D have been up the ice and making a lot of good plays. I don't know if we've really gotten rewarded for the work that's been done. That's the way it goes and we're working on it. Tonight, we got a little bit of action off of it, which is good for everybody."

The Blues were in position to take control because early in the game, Conklin, who was 0-6 as a member of the Blues in this building a season ago and last saw action here Feb. 4 of last season, made some key stops to keep the game within reach.

Conklin, whose last 11 starts were on the road, stopped sniper Alex Kovalev on an early 2-on-1, then making another key save on Fisher's attempt as the Senators (9-10-1) were buzzing early on.

"It was nice to get in the game early," said Conklin, who last won in this building with Detroit on Oct. 22, 2008. "Even though we ended up down 1-0 at the end of the first, I felt as the period went along, we started controlling the play a little bit more. Then we opened it up there in the second, but overall, it was a 60-minute game that we've been looking for. Maybe we didn't start quite how we wanted to, but that was about a five-minute thing. We got going with our game right away.

"I saw the puck well because I could see the puck. I was seeing everything, clear shooting lanes and when there was traffic in front of the net, we were doing a good job of getting in lanes and blocking shots. It makes it a lot easier."

McDonald's 150th career goal was one that should make NHL Network's top goals of the night, an end-to-end rush along the right side, curling around Ottawa d-man Filip Kuba before pulling up in front of Elliott and beating the Senators netminder upstairs.

"I thought Andy Mac's line skated incredibly, especially him," Brewer said. "I think it was able to push the pace of the game, which is what we like to do."

Berglund netted a power play goal as the Blues held a two-man advantage.

"We have to build off this certainly," Conklin said. "One game doesn't get you off of it. You've got to keep working."

The Blues have no time to marvel. They host the slumping New Jersey Devils at 7 p.m. today.

(11-19-10) Senators-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- Two teams that are in dire need of a victory here tonight are looking at the matchup from different points of view.

For the Blues (9-5-3), a five-game winless skid (0-4-1) after a seven-game winning streak puts them in a desperate need of a victory no matter who the opponent is.

It just so happens to be the 9-9-1 Ottawa Senators, who have dropped three of four which includes a 7-1 blowout loss Wednesday at Carolina.

But given the circumstances the Senators have been through, one can understand the emotions -- or lack thereof -- of going through a game Wednesday with not much focus on inside the rink.

The Senators have been dealing with the emotions of what happened outside the rink, when the daughter of assistant coach Luke Richardson recently committed suicide.

Daron Richardson was 14 years old when her mother found her in the basement of their home a week ago today. She was rushed to the hospital to no avail, and the entire Senators organization has dealt with the unthinkable.

"Any time you see something happen like that in the hockey world, it's a tough thing," Blues winger B.J. Crombeen said. "You never want to see that anywhere. The hockey family, as a group, is known as a tight-knit family. To see something like that, it's tough for everyone involved and I can only imagine."

Added Blues coach Davis Payne, "What they're going through, to me, is absolutely unimaginable. I don't put much into what went on (Wednesday) night. It will make them stronger. The organization has done an admirable job in bringing awareness to the situation that went on so that other people can learn from it. It's gut-wrenching and I know that it reaches out to our guys in the locker room and the coaches that knew Luke and his family. We recognize what they're going through, but I think they do as well as we do know that it's an important hockey game for both teams (tonight)."

The Senators attended a public memorial on Wednesday at Ottawa's Scotiabank Place, then chartered a plane to play at Carolina.

Luke Richardson played 21 seasons in the NHL with Toronto, Edmonton, Philadelphia, Columbus, Tampa Bay and Ottawa. He retired in 2008, finishing with 35 goals and 166 assists in 1,417 games.

"I don't think anyone can (understand), but you can imagine and it is probably worse than what you can imagine," Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson told The Globe and Mail. "It's tragic. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family, and hopefully they can cope with this as best as possible."

Blues assistant coach Brad Shaw was a teammate of Richardson's and attended the funeral.

- - -

The Blues, who need a boost in their lineup, will make a couple changes ahead of this home-and-home weekend set with the Senators tonight and New Jersey Devils tomorrow night.

It was likely to happen anyway, but Ty Conklin and Jaroslav Halak were expected to share the workload this weekend. Conklin will get the nod tonight ahead of the struggling Halak, who is 0-3-1 with a 5.46 GAA and an .800 save-percentage after beginning the season 8-1-1 with a 1.46 GAA and .944 save percentage.

Conklin was 0-6 during the regular season at Scotttrade Center a season ago, with his last start here being Feb. 4, 2010. His last 11 starts for the Blues have all come on the road.

"It's nice to get a start," Conklin said. "I haven't had too many starts here at home. It's been a while ... last year, I don't even know when. It'll be nice. But we need wins, man. We need to get points. We're stuck at the same number of points for a while. Get back on the board and get our game going the way we want it to."

"He's a guy who's there for that reason, to step in and give us that boost and give Jaro a chance to gain his footing again and put the past two performances behind him and get himself ready for the next one," Payne said of Conklin.

As for Halak?

"It's just a matter of addressing a couple things with Corey Hirsch and putting some work into today," Payne said. "He's a guy who knows how to reassert his game quite well."

Payne also said that the defensive pairings will "look a little different tonight." Also, Chris Porter will be back in, and Cam Janssen is the odd man out tonight.

The Blues also sent defenseman Nathan Oystrick back to Peoria.

"We want to give guys like (Nikita) Nikitin and (Tyson) Strachan ... who have been there and who have stepped in and played well ... we don't want them to dwell on their last mistakes for too long. We want to give them another crack to get right back in it. With that said, that takes Oystrick out of some playing action for a little bit of an extended period. With Peoria going tonight, we get him right back into game action."

The Blues have not beaten the Senators on home ice since the 2001-02 season, going 0-2-1 in that span.

- - -

The expected lines for tonight appear to be:

Andy McDonald-David Backes-Brad Boyes

Alex Steen-Patrik Berglund-Matt D'Agostini

Brad Winchester-Jay McClement-B.J. Crombeen

Vladimir Sobotka-T.J. Hensick-Chris Porter

The d-pairings are expected to include:

Eric Brewer-Alex Pietrangelo

Carlo Colaiacovo-Erik Johnson

Nikita Nikitin-Tyson Strachan

(earlier estimated d-pairing combos):

Eric Brewer-Erik Johnson

Nikita Nikitin-Alex Pietrangelo

Carlo Colaiacovo-Tyson Strachan

Ty Conklin
is in goal. He sports a 1-1-1 record with a 2.73 GAA and .898 save percentage.

- - -

The Senators, who last played in St. Louis in 2008-09, are expected to play the following lineup:

Peter Regin-Jason Spezza-Alex Kovalev

Milan Michalek-Mike Fisher-Daniel Alfredsson

Jarkko Ruutu-Chris Kelly-Chris Neil

Nick Foligno-Jesse Winchester-Ryan Shannon

Their d-pairings will likely include:

Matt Carkner-Chris Campoli

Chris Phillips-Sergei Gonchar

Erik Karlsson-Filip Kuba

Getting the nod in goal is Brian Elliott, who comes in with a 9-6-0 record and a 3.00 GAA and .909 save percentage. He was pulled from his last start after allowing four goals on 16 shots.

Senators line combinations per Scott MacArthur of Team 1200 radio.